Chattering at the Water Cooler

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2010-09-14 Print this article Print

A social network in private life is an uncomplicated proposition compared to connecting in a work environment. Consumer and even business-oriented social network tools are geared for individual rather than corporate promotion. Corporate social networking tools are coming on the scene and bringing with them the ability to gain insight into what matters to your company.

I like the idea of using a secure, professional-topics-only social networking application at work. This service isn't Facebook. The terms of service currently prohibit having multiple accounts and the effort needed to segregate my friends and family from my colleagues is impossible. As I wrote at the beginning of the year in a column entitled "Double Identity," it's getting harder to control "the growing overlap between my personal and corporate [online] identity."

There is an alternative to Facebook in the enterprise and that's Chatter, from I've seen Chatter in action and I like what I see. But I would like to see some things added to Chatter to make it easier to access everyone with whom I wish to chat.

Let's start with the first order of business: cost. I'm fine with my company paying $15 per month, per user for me to have access to the Chatter client. Chatter is available at no additional cost for licensed customers who are already using an edition of Sales or Service Cloud. So, the first order of business then is to understand that everyone who wants or needs to participate in a professional social networking environment needs to pay for the application.

Second, I'm fine with the company owning the data. I think there is a place for professional social networks such as LinkedIn, but these are tools for individuals-not corporate advancement. The reason there are so many "free" social networking services available is the data and the people providing the data are donating huge amounts of labor and product. This labor and product can be sold or rented in all sorts of ways that most corporations would shudder to consider. What company wants competitors to know that your sales team is suddenly interest in "Prospect A?" For that matter, Prospect A likely doesn't want the attention either.

Third, the next step is facilitating communication between those outside the company and those inside. For example, competitors shouldn't get alerted to interest in Prospect A through social networking, but your partner network likely should be.

Finally, social networking inside a professional context could be a radical advance in organizational communication. Instead of sending an e-mail blast to "all," a sales person could ask a question in a social networking stream. If someone in the organization can provide a quick answer, then problem solved. It's not clear to me that social networking ("best effort" networking, if you will) will replace formal business structures for ensuring that business problems are resolved in a methodical matter ("guaranteed delivery"). It is clear that social networking could certainly speed up things.

Valuable information is revealed as the social actions of employees moves the focus of attention throughout your organization. As sales, customer service, engineering, marketing and manufacturing interact, anomalies can be revealed. Instead of letting all the great trend or spike data get captured by a "no cost" social network outside your organization, now might be the time to use business-class social networking tools to promote cross-department communication and rapid-response problem solving. After all, you can't manage what you can't measure.

Cameron Sturdevant Cameron Sturdevant is the executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Prior to ENP, Cameron was technical analyst at PCWeek Labs, starting in 1997. Cameron finished up as the eWEEK Labs Technical Director in 2012. Before his extensive labs tenure Cameron paid his IT dues working in technical support and sales engineering at a software publishing firm . Cameron also spent two years with a database development firm, integrating applications with mainframe legacy programs. Cameron's areas of expertise include virtual and physical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, enterprise networking and mobility. In addition to reviews, Cameron has covered monolithic enterprise management systems throughout their lifecycles, providing the eWEEK reader with all-important history and context. Cameron takes special care in cultivating his IT manager contacts, to ensure that his analysis is grounded in real-world concern. Follow Cameron on Twitter at csturdevant, or reach him by email at

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